Spirituality in the Victorian Era

1422 Words6 Pages
This essay will show why interest in the occult manifested in the Victorian Era and the ways in which it did. The word ‘occult’ is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as; ‘Not apprehended, or not apprehensible, by the mind; beyond ordinary understanding or knowledge; abstruse, mysterious; inexplicable.’ And it is with this definition that we will gain an understanding of the Victorians interest in occultism, and the very different ways in which these interests were shared by female spiritualists, as well as those whom had been left spiritually bereft by the work of Charles Darwin, and the scientific thinkers of the day who believed that their work was for the greater good of humanity. In the early 19C Victorian audiences would be entertained by ‘scientific showmen’ who would demonstrate the latest marvels of science such as magnetism and attempts to reanimate the dead with galvanism. There was an element of mystery to mesmerism, as Mesmer postulated that every being that breathed had within them a magnetic fluid. A kind of hidden life spirit. Many eminent scientists including Benjamin Franklin practiced mesmerism and the study of it led to the development of hypnosis. The practice of mesmerism - a therapeutic system popularised by Franz Mesmer, who believed that he had created a technique which allowed its practitioner power over another’s mind - carried on this tradition. As there were often clear class and gender differences between the mesmerist and subject, the roles could be inverted. Whilst in a trance the lowly parlour made could tell her employers what she thought of them with impunity. Similarly, the mesmerist could bark orders at his superiors without fear of punishment. And the subversion of class and... ... middle of paper ... ...o discover the truth. Theosophists hoped that the tenets of their beliefs would be taken on by humanity, with the expectation that a ‘brotherhood of man’ spirit, would fill the void that science had left religious believers with. Theosophy had elements of evolution within its doctrine that may have tempted those who wanted to ‘move with the scientific ideas of the day and at the same time retain a belief in life after death. With a cursorary eye, it would be easy to view mesmerism, spiritualism, the actions of the SPR and Theosophy as completely different pursuits. But on closer inspection, one can see that there is a sameness that runs through each order. Mesmerism, spiritualism, the SPR and Theosophy all share interchangable traits. The sciences were affected by religion and spirituality questions and the occult pursuits were influenced by the age of science.
Open Document